Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Website Review:
Timelines

By Peggy Kurilla
©2003, Peggy Kurilla 

he Timelines of History site (at www.timelines.ws) is an excellent resource for anyone who needs historical data for a project.  The information is presented in chronological format and broken down into reasonably short time periods (i.e., two centuries at a time or five years at a time) depending on how much is known about events that happened.

The site's homepage contains links to the History of the World from the Big Bang to 2003, as well as links to histories of each state in the United States, many cities of the United States, countries around the world (from Afghanistan to Wales), and even specialized timelines for subjects such as baseball, money, NASA, television, U.S. Presidents, and wine.

The information on the site is mostly complete (I'll discuss its most glaring omission later in this review) and sometimes exhaustively thorough.  In fact, this is also one of its greatest faults.  Sometimes, the information it contains overlaps in confusing if not contradictory fashion.  An excerpt from the site regarding the origin of Halloween provides an example:

834  Oct 31, This evening became All Hallow's Eve with the establishment of Nov 1 as Feast of All Saints by Pope Gregory IV.
 (PTA, 1980, p.204)(SFC, 10/31/01
, p.C2)

834  Nov 1, This day was declared to be All Saints' Day by the Catholic Church.  [see 835CE]  (SFC, 10/31/01, p.C2)

835   Nov 1, After the spread of Christianity through the west, the Roman Catholic Church in 835 A.D. made November 1 a church holiday to honor all the saints. This celebration was called All Saint's Day or All Hallows and the day before it--October 31--was called All Hallow's Eve (later Halloween). Pope Gregory extended the Feast of All Saints on Nov 1 to France and Germany. [see 834CE]
 (PTA, 1980, p.204)(HNPD, 10/31/99
)

For the complete text, see http://timelines.ws/0600AD_999AD.HTML

 

The confusion results because the site masters simply entered the data from different sources (note the parenthetical references at the end of each entry) without editing or resolving any discrepancies that may exist.  While preserving the accuracy of the source material is important, it might have made more sense to consolidate some entries, noting any points of disagreement, than to have multiple entries on the same topic.  Bracketed cross-references help, but result in choppy entries that could have been smoothed out.

The specialized timelines provide all kinds of interesting information.  For example, the first recorded non-military airline crash (in January 1942) killed Carole Lombard and her mother.  Prizes were first inserted into Cracker Jack boxes in 1912 (or 1913; this is another inconsistency like the one mentioned above).  Punchcards were used to tabulate the census in 1890.  (See the special timelines on aircrashes, games and toys, and computer history, respectively.)

Possibly the most complete of their timelines lists the history of films and filmmaking from 1832 through 1932.  Any student of film will find this list fascinating and absorbing.  Besides noting that the first public showing of a movie projected onto a screen occurred in Paris in 1895, the site also notes that interest had begun to flag in motion pictures before "The Great Train Robbery" was released in 1903—which introduced the concepts of editing, the Western, and that all-time favorite, the chase scene.  Nuggets like these are scattered throughout the site, and whether you're a serious student of history or just looking to fill a few hours, the site is well worth a visit.

However, the site isn't perfect.  For all the useful information in the specialized timelines, one stands out for its glaring omissions.  The timeline for technology begins at the first century CE, then skips ahead to the fifteenth century CE in Europe, completely bypassing non-European advances in technology during those years—and even in the centuries before Christ.  This is precisely the kind of lopsided history I've mentioned in previous Vision articles, and I can't recommend the technology timeline as a good resource because of it.  If you need information about relatively modern Western technology, the site can be useful.  But if you're looking for a thorough history of worldwide technology, you'll need to look elsewhere.

Despite the flaws—incomplete technology timeline and overlapping entries—timelines.ws is a good browsing site.  I strongly recommend taking some time to visit it.